The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world in ways that we are only just now starting to comprehend. Nationwide, the virus has claimed the lives of over 181,000 people living in U.S. nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That is 33 percent of the national total of fatalities.

The numbers are even starker in Kentucky, where COVID-19 has killed 2,377 residents in long-term care facilities. While only accounting for 11 percent of the total number of state cases of COVID-19, they account for an astounding 39 percent of the share of total state deaths. With numbers this dramatic, it is no wonder that media outlets have noticed that the COVID-19 epidemic has driven down the demand for long-term care facilities.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes by the end of 2020 was 75 percent, which is down 11 percentage points from the first quarter of the year. Some claim this could be the start of a shift, with people diverting elderly family members away from nursing homes and into more age-friendly housing options and communities.

Unfortunately, there are still barriers to keeping family members who need special care in a home-like setting. The same news article cites a significant lack of age-friendly housing options. Many homes and apartments just aren’t equipped with the features that an elderly individual may need, such as wheelchair accessibility, walk-in showers, or accessible spaces such as kitchens.

Another barrier is access to quality home health care. While at-home health care is becoming available in a growing number of areas, Medicare and Medicaid plans typically will not cover the cost. President Biden’s new infrastructure plan does include a provision that allocates $400 billion dollars over the course of eight years to tackle the problem of long-term care solutions outside of traditional institutions like nursing homes. The plan has yet to pass. It also won’t immediately address the needs of individuals and families weighing their options right now.

What does this have to do with the quality of care that residents receive in standard nursing homes today? Perhaps a great deal. Previous studies have found that in highly competitive markets, facilities engaged in more competition may have improved quality of care. Why? Most nursing homes are for-profit businesses. The more people live under their roof, the more money they may be able to generate from health care costs, insurance reimbursements, and monthly rent.

In some cases, the better your facility, the higher the quality of care. The better your reputation, the bigger the draw for more residents to come to your facility. Could adding quality home health options to the mix help increase the quality of care nursing home residents receive? It’s a possibility.

The World Health Organization finds that almost 1 in 6 adults over the age of 60 will suffer from some form of abuse in a nursing home setting. With COVID-19 hitting nursing homes where it hurts (their occupancy rates), the rise of new stay-at-home options could mean that the nursing home industry is in for a massive shift.

Could the competition and drive to bring back residents increase the quality of care these facilities provide, decreasing overall abuse statistics? Or could new options mean cash-strapped facilities double down and provide poor care as they try to pinch pennies and cut corners?

The future of the industry is changing, but one thing is still certain. Residents living in nursing home facilities today still need the love and support of family members and people close to them.

If you suspect that a loved one is being abused or neglected in a Kentucky nursing home, please contact the legal team at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP for help. We offer a free initial consultation to go over your worries and answer your questions. Call us today at (859) 550-2900.